Jo Waters June 26, 2017

Core strength is our foundation for fitness. The core muscles make up the mid section of our body, the abdomen, pelvis/hips and back – and it's these muscles that keep us stable and upright. When they are strong and conditioned they help us to perform sport and exercise well – and avoid injury.Here are five exercises that will strengthen your core.

1. Mountain pose

What it works: The mountain pose (a yoga exercise), will help you become aware of your posture, align your spine, strengthen your thighs, knees and ankles and firm your abdomen and buttocks.

How to do it:

• Relax your mind.

• Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, rooted into the floor with body weight evenly distributed.

• Tilt your pelvis forward and back until you find a 'neutral' position – like a standing plank (see below).

• Lengthen through your spine, relax your shoulders down and back, and open your chest.

• Make your neck longer, with your chin slightly tucked in.

• Breathe in, and as you breathe out, contract the core muscles and adjust to feel perfectly aligned from head to toe.

• Imagine that you're a puppet and you have a string lifting you tall.

Stand for as long as you feel comfortable.

2. The Plank

What it works: The Plank stabilises and strengthens the deep abdominal muscles: oblique muscles (waist) and transverse abdominis (a belt of muscle beneath your belly button), as well as back and shoulder muscles.

How to do it:

• Get into a press up position, place your hands with palms under your shoulders and support your weight on your elbows, balanced on your forearms; extend both legs straight behind you, toes tucked under.

• Relax your shoulders and breathe in. As you breathe out, draw your belly button towards your spine, ensuring your hips stay level and your back doesn't round or arch.

• On the out breath contract the muscles by lifting them further in.

• Keep your back and neck long and straight and visualise being able to hold a plank perfectly still on your back.

Start by holding for 15 seconds. Build up to 60-90 seconds.

3. The Cobra

 

What it works: Strengthens the erector spinae (the back muscles that extend your spine and prevent slouching) and other lower back muscles.

 

How to do it:

• Lie on your front and extend your legs straight behind you, pressing the tops of your feet into the floor.

• Place your hands by your ears, with elbows bent.

• Breathe in and as you breathe out, pull your abdominal muscles in and up towards your spine.

• Lengthen out through your spine and slowly raise your head and chest off the floor, using only your back muscles.

• Keep your hip bones on the floor as you extend up and lengthen your gaze, looking down at the floor, but keep the neck relaxed.

• Hold the position for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back down.

Repeat 10 times.

4. Spine relaxer

What it works: This Alexander Technique exercise gives the spine a chance to rest, release tension and retain its natural curve. Research published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal revealed one-to-one Alexander Technique lessons, which taught improved posture and movement, were an effective treatment for back pain.

How to do it:

• Lie on your back, with your knees bent, slightly wider than hip width, feet flat on the floor.

• Use books or a yoga block to support your head comfortably, and adjust the height so that your neck is long and straight.

• Relax your hands, and then focus on letting go, feeling your spine's natural curve.

• Visualise your head floating out and away from your spine; your torso long; neck relaxed; back, shoulders and chest open and wide.

Rest in the position for 20 minutes.

5. Swiss ball roll-out

What it works: The use of 'instability devices' such as a fitness ball are effective in challenging and 'switching on' the entire group of muscles in the core. This exercise is one of the most effective exercises in activating upper and lower rectus abdominis (core stabilisers), waist and back muscles – but it also protects the lower back.

How to do it:

• Assume the Plank position (see above) with the ball under your forearms.

• Keep shoulders in line with your elbows, engage your core muscles and roll the ball out in front of you, as far as you can with control.

• Stay strong and stable and then draw the ball back in to the start position.

• Drop your knees to the floor if it's too difficult.

• If you want to work your waist roll out at a 45-degree angle.

Repeat 10 to 20 times.

Supplements

Many people will only start to work on their core strength and postural exercises following an injury, back ache or discovering that they have osteoarthritis (OA) in their joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown to be as effective as the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib in treating pain caused by oestoarthritis of the knee.

For ballet dancers, posture is a foundation of every move they make. A 2013 study published in Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found ballerinas who were vitamin D-deficient, who took vitamin D supplements improved their muscle function and injury rate – even allowing them to jump higher. Public Health England (PHE) now recommends everyone aged one and over needs 10mcg of vitamin D a day and advises some people may want to take a supplement, particularly during autumn and winter.

References

  1. http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/mountain-pose
  2. http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20436242
  4. http://ard.bmj.com/content/75/1/37
  5. http://www.jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(13)00055-8/abstract
  6. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537616/SACN_Vitamin_D_and_Health_report.pdf

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